Law Enforcement, Facial Recognition, and Wrongful Arrest
Facial recognition technology is being used across the country as a crime-fighting
weapon. State driver’s license databases have become a way to help identify criminals, like shoplifters or bank robbers. The technology can also help identify missing persons and abducted children, amongst other things. However, this crime-fighting weapon may not be completely foolproof. Although effective, the technology still has its flaws.
African American woman, Porcha Woodruff, was falsely arrested on February 16,
2023, after she was wrongly identified by facial recognition technology. Woodruff was at
home getting her children ready for school when police arrived to arrest her for her
alleged connection to a carjacking and robbery that occurred in January. At the time,
Woodruff was eight months pregnant and thought there was some kind of mistake. She
was held in a cell for 11 hours where she was questioned and was eventually released on
a $100,000 bond. The charges were dropped less than a month later due to insufficient
Prior to Woodruff’s arrest, Detective LaShaunita Oliver was investigating the
crime. Detective Oliver was the one who submitted the facial recognition request. The
incident occurred on January 29, 2023. The victim was robbed at gunpoint after he picked
up a woman on the street earlier in the day. They were drinking together, and he dropped
her off ten minutes from a BP gas station, there was a man waiting for them who showed
his handgun and stole his phone, wallet, and car.
Days later the detective was notified that a woman returned the victim’s cell
phone to the BP gas station. The video footage was obtained, and the facial recognition
request was made on the woman who returned the phone which identified Woodruff. The
victim was called in for a lineup and identified Woodruff whose mugshot from 2015 was
used in the lineup.
Woodruff is seeking a jury trial against the city of Detroit as well as a Detroit
Police Department detective for wrongful arrest to recover punitive and other damages.
The complaint states that facial recognition should not be used as probable cause for
arrests, but as an investigative tool to help aid law enforcement in an investigation.
Computers as well as humans are prone to making mistakes, so the software should not
be fully relied on.
Facial recognition technology is software that uses data, like facial features, from
one picture or video to identify the same features in another picture or video. Although
the technology for this software is improving, it is still relatively inaccurate. Woodruff is
the sixth person to be falsely accused of a crime due to facial recognition, and this is the
third case involving the Detroit Police Department.
There are concerns with facial recognition confusing minorities. This concern has
led to a ban on the technology in several cities throughout the country. A 2019 study
done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology showed people of African or
Asian descent were more likely to be falsely identified using facial recognition than those
of European descent.
Although facial recognition can have its perks when it is able to accurately
identify criminals, its risks carry a concern for innocent people, especially minorities. The
technology is advancing; however, it still has its weaknesses that need to be advanced to
ensure that it will not be abused by law enforcement and lead to more false arrests.
If you have a legal question regarding a criminal matter, contact Columbus, Ohio
criminal defense lawyer, Joe Edwards at (614) 309-0243. Attorney Edwards has over 25
years of experience representing individuals at the state and federal levels.
Jennifer Henderson, Black mom sues city of Detroit claiming she was falsely arrested while 8 months pregnant by officers using facial recognition technology, CNN (Aug. 8, 2022, 11:24 AM).
Kashmir Hill, Eight Months Pregnant and Arrested After False Facial Recognition Match, N.Y. TIMES (Aug. 6, 2023).
Brian Fung, Facial recognition systems show rampant racial bias, government study finds, CNN BUSINESS (Dec. 19, 2019).